Hajipur zone head arrives with carving knife
Trinamul sniffs plot in Buddha-Advani meet
Panchayat member hacked
Subhas to table bus fares on Monday
CPI blames murders on CPM goons
Shuffle reopens party vs govt debate
Scared minorities get out of yatra way
BJP walks Vaiko tightrope
Beckham releases a bender at Indian goal
Mob kills father, son

Calcutta, July 5: 
The process of handover of three Eastern Railway divisions to the proposed East-Central Railway has begun with the new zone’s general manager-designate S.C. Gupta arriving here to seek transfers to set up his headquarters in Hajipur.

“I am getting full cooperation from the Eastern Railway officials in setting up the Hajipur headquarters,” Gupta said. He is on a two-day visit to effect transfers of key officials and staff to Hajipur. The new zone is scheduled to go chugging on October 1.

In a letter to Eastern Railway general manager Sunil Sengupta, the proposed zone has demanded the shifting of 121 officials and 3,421 staff members to Hajipur. At present, 282 officials and 7,954 staff in the Eastern Railway headquarters at Fairlie Place and other offices in Dalhousie.

“We will offer an option to the staff to report at Hajipur or remain in Calcutta, but the officials are bound to report to Hajipur as they are part of an all-India service,” Gupta said. If some staff opt to stay on here, Gupta will approach other zones to fill up the Hajipur posts.

The general manager-designate pointed out that he had no time to seek new recruits as it would “take up a lot of time”. “I have to make ECR operational by October 1 and there is hardly any time left for new recruitment,” Gupta explained.

At Hajipur, just across the Ganga from Patna, the central control office had full operational and communication capabilities, Gupta said. “All I need now is the manpower to run it.”

With three key Eastern Railway divisions of Mughalsarai, Dhanbad and Danapur being given up, senior railwaymen here are discontented. Most of them are wary of being shunted to the backwoods at Hajipur.

Hajipur’s insignificance was emphasised when the financial commissioner of railways, S. Murali, called up the financial adviser and chief accounts officer of Eastern Railway, B.K. Banik, inquiring about the location of Hajipur. Banik had to consult railway maps before giving the information.

Moreover, law and order in Bihar is another cause for worry for the officials. “Bihar has always been a very difficult place to work in, given the rampant use of force by the mafia, which usually bid for contracts and other jobs,” a senior railway official said. The kidnapping of safety officer, D. Topno, a few years ago in the Barkakhana area is still fresh in the officials’ mind. Topno was kept hostage for days till police rescued him.

“It is almost regularly that we, officials, (will) have to look down the barrel of a gun in Bihar. It is also unsafe for women and young girls to move around even inside our colonies in the railway towns of Bihar,” the official said.

As far as Bengal’s “loss” was concerned, some senior officials pointed out that the Deve Gowda government, which had the Left parties as strategic partners, had created East- Central Railway.

One of the major blows to Eastern Railway will be the reduction in the number of posts in Calcutta. Also with the Dhanbad division gone, Eastern Railway will lose freight of over 50 million tonnes of coal annually. But as an official said: “The revenue will anyway come to Indian Railways.”

In another development, a division bench of Calcutta High Court rejected a petition challenging the bifurcation of Eastern Railway.


Calcutta, July 5: 
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s offer to discuss Eastern Railway’s proposed bifurcation with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is being seen by the Trinamul Congress as a clever ploy to deny Mamata Banerjee any credit for a possible solution to the impasse that is acceptable to Bihar and Bengal.

Bhattacharjee will meet Advani tomorrow in Delhi to discuss the political and economic implications of railway minister Nitish Kumar’s move to split Eastern Railway and create a new East-Central Railway with its headquarters at Hajipur.

Sources said Advani was wary of a law and order problem in the two states if the split is effected.

The home minister, who played a major role in frustrating Mamata’s bid to get the railway portfolio in the recent Cabinet reshuffle, has apparently sided with Kumar.

Trinamul leaders fear that Bhattacharjee might agree to a “compromise formula which may not do full justice to West Bengal as far as Eastern Railway’s bifurcation is concerned”. “There is every possibility of the BJP leadership joining hands with the Marxists to sideline our chair-person over the issue in view of her uncompromising stand,” a Trinamul leader said.

Mamata, who returned from Delhi last night, has told close associates that it is not possible for her to re-join the Cabinet till the problem is amicably resolved. Sources said she is still hoping for the Prime Minister’s intervention in the interest of both Bihar and Bengal.

Mamata did not meet reporters today, but Trinamul leaders said they were expecting “a positive development” within a couple of days. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who had accompanied the Trinamul chief to the capital, said: “I am still hopeful about a positive outcome. Things have started moving in the right direction.” He declined to comment on Advani’s decision to hold talks with the chief minister on the issue.

At an executive today, the Trinamul Youth Congress indirectly attacked Kumar for the burning of Mamata’s effigies in Bihar. “We urge the NDA leadership to probe the incident and take steps against the persons responsible for it,” said a resolution.

Trinamul Youth Congress president Sanjay Bakshi said his organisation was prepared to launch a strong movement against Eastern Railway’s bifurcation “as soon as our leader gives her green signal”. He said the meeting appreciated Mamata’s decision to champion West Bengal’s cause in the issue.

Mamata is expected to elaborate her stand on joining the Cabinet as well as the bifurcation issue at a state committee meeting of her party at Maharashtra Nivas tomorrow.


Darjeeling, July 5: 
Deo Chandra Lama, a gram panchayat member and son of rebel CPM leader Dawa Lama, was hacked to death in Gholi Ghoomti under Pulbazar police station area last night. Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxist, the rebel group, has called a 12-hour strike in the hills tomorrow.

Police said the 48-year-old member of the Gangata panchayat and a primary school teacher was returning from a marriage reception in Bijanbari on a scooter when he was stopped barely half a kilometre from his village and attacked by seven people armed with kukris. A man riding pillion escaped with minor injuries.

Two persons, Karzan Tamang and Mani Bhujel, were arrested for the murder that has sparked tension in the hills. Police said the killing could have been the fallout of a drunken brawl between Lama and Bhujel. They, however, did not say what started the fight. Senior police officials including the Darjeeling superintendent of police visited the murder scene.

Dawa Lama, a former CPM minister, blamed his former party. “My son was a social activist and very influential in the area and that’s why the CPM wanted to get rid of him, especially in view of the forthcoming DGHC election,” he said, adding that the killing was planned.

The Marxist rebels called the bandh, alleging that the police were not arresting the real culprits.

The CPM denied the allegations. Nirmal Baraily, a local CPM leader, said his party was not involved and asked the rebels not to politicise the killing.


Calcutta, July 5: 
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty will place the restructured bus fare tables in the Assembly on Monday. The fares are being revised after the recent hike in diesel prices.

Responding to a motion moved by SUCI member Debaprasad Sarkar, the minister said the restructuring was necessary to avoid the problem of small change in paying bus fare. “We are approaching the problem after examining all aspects so that nobody is inconvenienced,” he said. “There is a possibility, however, that small problems may exist for some.”

Participating in the debate, members pointed out that most commuters would not have objected had the condition of the buses and the quality of service been better. “The way some bus drivers race against each other, it could well be that passengers will be paying more for their deaths,” pointed out Paras Dutta of the Trinamul Congress.

The fares would be more in favour of the bus owners, and less for the passengers, some said. But Chakraborty said the hike was inevitable as diesel and spare parts prices had gone up.

During discussions on another motion placed by Trinamul members Saugata Roy and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, finance minister Asim Dasgupta refuted charges that salaries of staff in different departments were being paid by taking loans from financial institutions.


Rameswarpur (Murshidabad), July 5: 
Criminals allegedly backed by the local CPM today went on the rampage in Rameswarpur village, about 25 kilometre from Behrampore, killing two CPI supporters and injuring two others. Several villagers, too, were hurt.

One person was arrested for the murder of two brothers — Faien and Akher Seikh — who were known as active CPI workers. The local Kumarsanda panchayat is controlled by the CPI.

Murshidabad party secretary Manik Mandal said: “The CPM and Congress have joined hands to wrest the gram panchayat. Our cadres are becoming targets of anti-socials backed by CPM. We are apprehending more trouble as panchayat elections are due next year.”

But CPI state secretary Manju Majumder was cautious. In Calcutta, he said: “We have no specific proof that the CPM was behind the murder of our party cadres. But we want the police to book the culprits at any cost.”


July 5: 
With just about half the term left for the Vajpayee ministry, the shake-up has raised afresh an old question. Which ranks first, party or government. L.K. Advani’s assertion that more hands may be drafted in for party work shows a change of tack, but the dilemma is deeper.

It is the government at the Centre that has to deliver on promises while the party has had to bear the brunt of voter alienation. After the last week, the government has had an accretion of power, even if the party has fresh hands on the job.

There is a genuine paucity of experienced men and women who are efficient but have a common touch. The only way to bring in fresh faces is to pull them out of government jobs and send them back into the organisation. But as Arun Jaitley aptly observed, “spin” is not enough and results alone will count for both party and government in the days ahead.

This explains why there are only dim echoes of the Kamaraj Plan from the last years of the Nehru era. Party bosses and chief ministers had their wings clipped. Many aspirants for succession were eased out of the ministry.

Things now are so very different. The BJP controls barely four of the 28 states, and it works within a multi-party system, not in a polity dominated by one political formation. With Advani becoming the formal number two, doubts about succession have been set at rest.

The tussle between party and government is not new or without precedent. After the Congress split in 1969, Indira Gandhi’s government held sway over the party, with lightweights being asked to run the organisation. While in Opposition in 1978, the party even unified the two posts of leader of the legislative wing and head of the organisation.

But the Hindutva party cannot go down this route. Never a hands-on manager, Vajpayee already has enough to worry about keeping the coalition and the Sangh family in good humour.

But note how the three successive party presidents are all men who have not won a popular election. The new president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, makes it a point to repeatedly defer to the “senior leadership”. There is no trace of assertion of autonomy, quite the reverse.

In any case, it is the actions of the government that will still loom large in public perception. The ushering in of Jaswant Singh as finance minister has raised expectations of an olive branch to the middle classes. His proximity to the Prime Minister, and his long-standing party affiliation are both expected to give him more elbow room than what his predecessor had.

The spotlight is not only on New Delhi but also on the most important state under the party, Gujarat. The postponement of the Gujarat yatra of chief minister Narendra Modi is a clear signal that the struggle for the heart and mind of the party continues at the highest level.

The deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister united to call off a public campaign that could have had explosive consequences, sending a signal that they hope to pre-empt further violence.

The levers of power in the hands of government do more than vest it with powers of patronage. They also extend its ability to control the style of politics of the party. Advani is widely expected to play a much greater role than before in co-ordinating and guiding the new team at the helm.

More than that, the actions of the ministry will set the tone for the party. It is interesting that all the key players have emphasised the need for the organisation to act as a conveyer belt.

It will have to convey the achievements of the NDA on the foreign and domestic fronts to the people. With major bastions coming up for election, it will also have to help finetune government policy to forestall electoral rout.

Fresh blood is being injected into the party apparatus. But there is no doubt that the locus of power remains in the government. History is on the side of the latter.


Ahmedabad, July 5: 
With prayer on their lips and fear in their hearts, Muslims living along the route the Jagannath rath will take on July 12 have moved to “safer places” to escape the violence the yatra might again ignite in these tense times.

Even traders and businessmen are planing to shift from Shahpura and Dariapur, areas considered the most sensitive spots.

Every Muslim in this riot-savaged city is apprehensive about the yatra that has sparked communal disturbances many times in the past. This time, many in the old city have shifted to areas like Sarkhej and Shah Alam while some have put up with their relatives in other cities.

The minorities feel so insecure that they do not feel safe even in Juhapura, a Muslim ghetto. Today, there is not a soul in the six residential societies — Al-Hamhja, Arwali, Anjuman, Al-Rehmani, Al-Atik and Shehwas Park. All are situated close to majority-dominated areas.

“Everyone has moved out — some of them have gone to live with relatives while others have moved out of the city itself,” said Wasim Khan, a resident of Juhapura. He himself is planning to send his mother and child to Delhi, where his wife has already gone to stay with her parents.

Farzanaben, a resident of Sankalitnagar, Jahapura, confirmed that about 15 families from her locality have already shifted. It is the same story in Khanpur, Dariapura and Shahpur. The fear is so overwhelming that parents are keeping school-going children at home — waiting for the yatra to pass off.

It is not only the minority community that is apprehensive. Police had also requested the government to ask the Jagannath Temple Trust to drop the yatra this year or change the route from the old city to other areas.

The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry also appealed to the trust to change the route. The trust had agreed but the VHP put its foot down.

Mohsin Quadri, a minority leader, said Muslims are apprehensive “because they fear the yatra will create trouble — a reason why the VHP is insisting on the traditional route”.

According to human rights activist Girish Patel, their fear is not unfounded, given the history of communal riots sparked by the yatra, which, he says, “is no longer a religious but a communal- political procession”.

Others say the provocative slogans against Muslims are difficult to tolerate. “Some people do shout anti-Muslim slogans, but we cannot stop them,” said Mahendra Jha, managing trustee of the Jagannath temple.

Jha ruled out the possibility of a change in route, but claimed the 125th yatra would pass off without trouble. “We have toned down the festivities and reduced the strength of the procession to one-third,” he said.

Jha denied that the VHP had pressurised the trust not to change the route. “We have nothing to do with the VHP. However, as a Hindu organisation, the VHP has a say in the matter. But no one has pressurised us. Whatever is decided is decided by us,” he added.

VHP leader Haresh Bhatt said: “Muslims are getting panicky because they are guilty conscious. As for the VHP, we have no plan to create trouble on July 12. It’s our religious function and it is common knowledge that no one spoils his own function.”

The police, to be on the safe side, have identified 17 trouble points on the route.


New Delhi, July 5: 
The BJP was extremely cautious in taking a position on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act against MDMK chief Vaiko.

“I do not at this stage wish to go into details on Vaiko because the due process of law will follow. But a speech sympathetically made in context of facts relating to the condition of Tamils in Sri Lanka, which he believes is a cause dear to his heart, may not be sufficient to invoke Pota,” was all that BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley said, though the MDMK is a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance.

The BJP spokesman said he had seen visuals of Vaiko’s statement on the LTTE, a detailed statement he issued on July 3 and his subsequent clarifications on TV.

In all three, Jaitley added, his context was the condition of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The BJP’s view, he said, was that “mere statement” itself did not warrant the use of the anti-terror Act.

Jaitley was, however, quick to add that the BJP considered the LTTE a terrorist organisation and that was why the NDA government had extended the ban on it. “The question of supporting it does not arise,” stressed the BJP leader.

Party president M. Venkaiah Naidu took a more pro-Vaiko stand, saying arresting the MDMK leader under the anti-terror Act would send the “wrong signals”. “It is not fair on the part of the Tamil Nadu government. It will send the wrong signals to all parties,” Naidu, on a visit to Tirupati, was quoted by agencies as saying.

The party president added that the Act should be used judiciously, but clarified that his statements should not be construed as agreement with whatever Vaiko had said.

Asked if expression of sympathy for Osama bin Laden or an outlawed outfit like Simi would warrant the use of the Act, Jaitley said: “The provisions of Pota are clear and I cannot make comments in abstract. There are cases where people have set up parallel election commissions in a given state. On a matter of public policy, the government has to decide. If someone helps (a terrorist organisation) and there is evidence of it then it is another matter.”

If the BJP backs Vaiko unequivocally, it would imply associating itself with his pro-LTTE stand, which the MDMK chief stuck to even after a criminal case was filed against him under the anti-terror law.

There is also a political dimension to the BJP’s ambiguity. Though Vaiko was useful as an ally in 1998 and 1999, when the BJP was struggling to get a toehold in Tamil Nadu, the MDMK’s none-too-impressive performance in the Assembly elections and the recent bypolls have caused a rethink within the BJP.

There are enough signs now within the BJP that it would weigh its options carefully for the next elections and go along with the ADMK if it continues its winning spree.

The Congress, on its part, has backed Jayalalithaa’s move to file an FIR against Vaiko but was silent on the invoking of the anti-terror law.

“Our view on Vaiko is not different from that of the Tamil Nadu chief minister. (But) We have not taken a view on the applicability of Pota,” said party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy.

MDMK denial

The MDMK today denied that the action against Vaiko had anything to do with the NDA government “declining to withdraw” a Fera violation case against Jayalalithaa and her confidante Sasikala.

“We have not received any such request and nor has the case related to the ADMK leader allegedly receiving a gift of $3 lakh during her previous regime been closed,” said MDMK deputy general secretary and Union minister of state for finance Senji Ramachandran, under whose department the enforcement directorate functions.

The Centre has not dropped the case against Jayalalithaa, Ramachandran told the media after a meeting of the MDMK’s top leaders here tonight.


July 5: 
“Beckham kya jhuk-jhuk ke khelte hain? (Does Beckham bend when he plays?)”

After this question, posed during Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha’s India tour a few weeks ago, the name Football Shootball Hai Rabba! shouldn’t come as such a surprise. The Hindi version of the film, which has grossed almost Ł12 million in the UK alone, is being released in an attempt to woo the janta. “I would like nothing more than to come to India and watch the film with rickshaw-drivers,” grins Gurinder.

But before the July 12 release of the film, in both English and Hindi, in 100 halls across the country, she was meeting the desi media machine in Bangkok. They may have lost out on the enjoyable experience of meeting Gurinder in the run-up to the release had it not been for the insistence of the film’s Indian promoter, iDream Productions. Having hit the road on June 10 to visit Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, with Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan lined up, travelling to India did not make logistical sense.

Of course she wants to see the film do well in her country of ethnic origin. But she, unlike most Indians, doesn’t see the work as an ‘Indian’ film. “I see it as a British film about the British Asian community,” explains the creator of Bhaji on the Beach. The Indian market is, however, “extremely important”, and she hopes the audiences will “derive great pleasure” from it.

So the Hindi release makes good marketing sense, and the director claims to have chosen the name herself. “You can’t really translate Bend it Like Beckham in Hindi… I wanted something catchy, something with the same humour as the English title,” she explains. Her main regret about missing the India trip to promote the release is that she lost out on yet another chance to come to Calcutta. “I have heard so much about the place, and have always really wanted to visit,” she smiles. It is also the only Indian metropolis that is crazy about football.

Forcing India on this well-adjusted lady is, however, unfair. She identifies no unhappiness with her “immigrant” status. In fact, she was upset by the The Guardian review, which criticised the film for being ‘too feel-good’ and ‘not pained enough’. “People see race and culture as a problem. I don’t,” she shrugs. Her life, from Kenya to Southall, England, has been a “wonderful, invigorating experience” which has allowed her to “create complexity” through a coming together of “fantastic creative influences”.

Although she has no debts to pay to India, Gurinder is still more Punjabi than some of her cousins who still live here, she says. “The Indian community abroad keeps the Indian culture alive. It doesn’t stagnate. We bring to it a different appreciation. And at least I still speak the language, which many Punjabis can’t do even in India.”

Her future projects will contain more on the theme of cultural complexity. She has already finished the script for The Mistress of Spices, based on the novel by US-based Bengali author Chitra Devakaruni. To be set in the US, the film is likely to star a “mainstream” Indian actress with names like Tabu, Madhuri and Kajol on her shortlist for talks, and a big-name Hollywood star, also not finalised, as the male lead. Also lined up is a musical, based in the US, the UK and India, “with elements of Grease, My Fair Lady and Bollywood in it”.

With a musical on the cards, could asli Mumbai masala be far behind? Dealing with Sunny Deol on the London that never was, showed Gurinder how she “didn’t want to work”. But the Bend it Like Beckham ride has opened many roads for her already. “I made great connections with lots of Indian producers who are working the way I want to work and I feel really optimistic about it.”

With the US release for Bend it… scheduled as late as April 2003, her hands are more than full for now. And while the groundwork for future films is already underway, we will have to wait a long time before seeing Bollywood kuri Madhuri, Tabu or Kajol opposite Hollywood puttar Tom, Brad or Mel.


Ahmedabad, July 5: 
A 70-year-old man, Ismail Mohammed Mansuri, and his 25-year-old son were hacked to death by a mob in their village in Sanor, 60 km from Baroda, last night. Police ruled out any communal angle to the incident, saying personal enmity was behind the murders.

The Mansuris had been forced to leave the tribal-dominated village three months ago following a quarrel with local tribals. The family ran a grocery shop in the village, where five other Muslim families live.

On March 3, when Gujarat was burning, the Mansuris had a argument with a local tribal. On March 7, when the same tribal came to their shop, they held him hostage and informed the police that he had come to loot their outlet. When the police arrested the man, furious villagers, mostly Vasava tribals, attacked them. The police opened fire, killing a tribal youth.

Yesterday, Ismail and his son had returned to the village despite police warning them not to.


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